Welcome to Disney Extinct Attractions. My name is Cole Geryak, and this week I’ll be your tour guide through time.
Christmas has officially begun at the Disney parks, leading people to ask that age old question of when does the Christmas season truly begin? Some people start celebrating as soon as the clock strikes midnight on November 1st, but you also have the old faithful of those waiting to celebrate until after Thanksgiving. Personally, I think I fall more into the latter category. (I am a bit biased as my birthday sometimes falls on Thanksgiving.) Though this year on Halloween, I did listen to Christmas Pandora simply because I wanted to. (I have a few hipster qualities in me.)
But that’s enough about me. Disney definitely falls into the former category of starting early, as Christmas has been in full flow for a week now. Christmas decorations have already been popping up in all of the parks, and now the overlays are arriving, as well. The Jingle Cruise has already opened in Walt Disney World, and it, along with it’s a small world holiday, arrived in Disneyland, today actually.
Now that we’ve seen what’s going on in the parks presently, it’s time to leap back to the early 1990s and take a look at our featured attraction of the day.
Disneyland Paris, or EuroDisney as it was then known, officially opened on April 12, 1992. The park mirrored Disneyland in many ways upon its opening, but one area that was radically different was Tomorrowland, known as Discoveryland in France. The land was based upon H.G. Wells and Jules Verne’s ideas of the future (especially fitting for our featured attraction today). Doing so helped the land feel fresher and avoid some of the problems that plagued other Tomorrowlands, which always become outdated faster than the parks can upgrade them.
The headliner attraction of Discoveryland (and this post) was Le Visionarium: Un Voyage a Travers le Temps, referred to as The Timekeeper in America (and throughout the rest of this post). The Timekeeper was the first use of Circle Vision 360 to create a full-length story as opposed to simply showing images from different areas of the world.
For those unfamiliar with Circle Vision 360, it is probably pretty similar to what you are imagining. Guests stand in the middle of a theater in the round, and footage is projected onto screens on the walls around them. Having experienced it before, it is so radically different from however you have watched anything before, so if you have the chance to see a Circle Vision 360 show, take it!
The story followed the adventures of the Timekeeper and his sidekick, Nine-Eye, a robot with the perfect number of eyes to project what she sees on the walls of the theater for all the guests to view. As you may have guessed from his name, the Timekeeper is a master of Time, having created a Time Machine that will allow him to travel to whenever he might like.
But before I dive deeper into the story, I want to give you the chance to watch it before I give out some spoilers. This video doesn’t do the experience justice, but it was more than enough to make me wish that I had had the chance to see this show in person. It is an extremely well-thought out show that wowed me multiple times and definitely worth the watch.
Now that you’ve had the chance to watch the film (if you so chose), let’s go a little deeper into why I think it’s such an awesome attraction. To start, the animatronic of the Timekeeper is simply amazing. The Imagineers did such a great job of creating a lifelike figure that would engage guests fully. But the Timekeeper wasn’t the only character you saw in the “flesh”.
Nine-Eye is a fascinating character with a scintillating aesthetic, so I was ecstatic when she actually came out of the stage to appear right in front my eyes. I can only imagine what it must have been like to actually been in the theater and see this cool-looking robot emerge in a giant puff of smoke.
Nine-Eye plays a vital role in the story because she is the guests’ eyes to the world. The Timekeeper uses her to test out his time machine, so we get to jump through time with Nine-Eye, ranging from the Jurassic Period to the early 1900s.
At the turn of the twentieth century, we run into H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, our good friends that I mentioned earlier. When I watched the film, I was happily surprised when Jules Verne came along for the ride two-thirds of the way into the film. He added a lot of great humor to the attraction and was my favorite part of film. Or was Timekeeper? It’s so hard to decide because this attraction had so many great parts! I was just completely enthralled by the whole experience and cannot recommend it enough.
Now speaking of The Timekeeper, he was voiced by none other than the late great Robin Williams in the Walt Disney World version of the show. His distinctive voice was a perfect fit for the role, and I cannot imagine the attraction without him in it.
If you remember last week’s clues, I hinted at the fact that there were three Emmy winners in attraction as a whole. Well, Robin Williams was one of them, along with Rhea Perlman as the voice of Nine-Eye. The third winner could be a bit harder to identify, though. Playing H.G. Wells is the voice of Scar, Jeremy Irons, but he is well hidden as his face is shaded due to his dashing fedora.
Jeremy Irons was the only Emmy winner to make it into each versions of the attraction, though. Each different version had specific well-known actors from their country voicing the Timekeeper and Nine-Eye, which made each one special in its own way.
Now I’ve been mentioning multiple versions, but haven’t given you opening dates or locations yet, with the exception of Disneyland Paris. The second iteration opened at Tokyo Disneyland on April 15, 1993, and the final one opened on November 21, 1994 in the Magic Kingdom.
You may be wondering where Disneyland falls into the discussion as it never ended up receiving the attraction. But that was not the original plan.
In the early 1990s, Imagineering was brainstorming Tomorrowland 2055, an update to Tomorrowland that would add Walt Disney World attractions like the ExtraTERRORestrial Alien Encounter and The Timekeeper, along with an attraction that never made it, Plectu’s Fantastic Galactic Revue anywhere. Unfortunately, the Euro Disney project ended up costing the company a billion dollars, resulting in cost-cutting across all divisions. So instead of Tomorrowland 2055, Disneyland got Tomorrowland 1998, a disappointing compromise when compared to what could have been.
After The Timekeeper failed to make it to Disneyland, it was planned to become a part of WestCOT, a long-gestating, never created second gate at the Disneyland Resort. Instead, the resort received Disney California Adventure (which I personally love), leaving no room for The Timekeeper to join in the fun.
Through all of these issues companywide, all of the open Timekeepers continued to bring in guests because of their unique nature. Other than each show being a different language due to its region, the shows were nearly identical. The French and Japanese versions used the exact same film, but the U.S. version omitted a few scenes. Tension was still high between the U.S. and Russia, so scenes filmed in Russia for the prior versions were removed upon the film’s arrival in Florida.
But as the decade progressed, the Timekeeper began to fall out of favor with guests, with declining attendance as the novelty of Circle Vision 360 wearing off. The first version to go was Tokyo Disneyland on September 1, 2002, with Disneyland Paris’ following on September 5, 2004. The Disneyland Paris case is actually pretty interesting because the primary reason for the attraction’s closure was due to its sponsor, Renault, dropping. Renault products were placed throughout the film, so with it dropping its sponsorship, it did not make much sense for Disney to keep the attraction alive and promoting Renault. So it closed to make way for Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast, as did Tokyo Disneyland’s version.
The Magic Kingdom was a slightly different story as it lasted there until February 26, 2006 before being replaced by the Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor. Starting in 2001, The Timekeeper began to operate seasonally in the park due to a lack of popularity and lack of seating. One cannot sit inside most Circle Vision 360 theaters, so obese and handicapped guests did get the same enjoyment from the attraction. Plus, the film had a noticeable absence of Disney characters, so all of those factors ultimately added up the attraction’s closure.
That may have been the end of the Timekeeper in the parks, but I just needed to point out this interesting similarity between him and Mr. Tom Morrow. They have such a striking resemblance that I cannot help but think they must be brothers. This is my own fan theory, but I really think that Imagineering was trying to show their relation to us all. Maybe they had seen The Birdcage and thought it would would be funny to make these two characters resemble each other and provide a further link between Nathan Lane and Robin Williams.
So with that final look at the Tokyo Timekeeper (at least that’s my assumption of who the character above is, so correct me if I’m wrong), we must bring our discussion to a close.
Next week, we’ll have another throwback Thursday, where an older post gets a refurb and makes its way over to Laughing Place. So here are your weekly clues, for your guessing pleasure.
1. A current version of the attraction deals in part with a film whose DVD was just released.
2. The attraction was part of the first major expansion of Disneyland.
3. The original version of the attraction helped lead to the creation of the E-Ticket.
I hope you enjoyed what you read here and will tune back in next week. As always, I love hearing everything you have to say, especially personal experiences you may have had with the attraction, so you can reach out through any of the social media links you find below! Also, be sure to check out my series of weekly posts detailing my recent trip to Walt Disney World, if that’s something that interest you, of course.
And with that, have a magical day!
Cole Geryak is a college Disney fan making his way through the world. He has ridden every single ride in Disneyland in one day, all while wearing a shirt and tie. Imagination is his middle name, and his heart truly lies in the parks.